Friday, May 27, 2022



  My father was one of a large brood of boys. I was named after one of them, an uncle who worked in a clothing store. Maybe because I was his namesake, I spent several weeks in the summertime with him and aunt Mary. I didn’t know the other uncles personally, only heard stories about them.

One story I’ll never forget was about my uncle Charlie. He was an alcoholic. He was also the maker of a brood. Because he had difficulty supporting the family he already had, as money for food often went for alcohol instead, his wife was in despair about a new and unwanted pregnancy. Since abortion was illegal, she took matters into her own hands with a coat hanger. My father sat with her in the hospital as she bled to death; and Charlie was drunk, somewhere.

Years ago, partly because of that family story, I joined the Clergy Consultation Service on Problem Pregnancies. Since abortions were illegal in the U.S. at that time, our role as clergy was to counsel with women about their pregnancy, why they saw it as a problem, and work with them to consider their options. We looked at all the possibilities, including adoption and abortion. Our role was not to convince them of what to do, but help them make the decision. Then we provided suggestions and resources that would help with their choice.

If a woman chose abortion, we provided them with the details of trustworthy clinics, usually in Canada or England. It was evident from my time with the CCSPP, that only financially secure women were able to afford a plane trip to another country, on top of the expense of the procedure. (Sometimes the potential father was all too happy to foot the bill. “Here’s the money … just get off my back!”) In the days before Roe, poor women faced the dangers of coat hangers and back alley butchers.

I can only speak for the women I saw. None of them took the abortion choice lightly. To a person, they were in desperation for many different reasons. Decisions were taken with careful consideration, even though the emotional baggage was intense. In all of my counseling sessions, only one male was present. My memory is, all the other males were now absent from the relationship altogether, or were making her take care of it. It was no longer a male problem.

One of my issues with making abortion illegal again is, “what about the guy?” There is a move in Louisiana to make abortion a “homicide.” The legislation gives “personhood” to the fertilized egg. If it’s fertilized, doesn’t the male have some responsibility to this unborn offspring? Did he try to stop the “murder,” or did he pay for and encourage it? Shouldn’t there be something in the legislation about the guy, and jail time?

Interesting enough, the Representative introducing the bill in the Louisiana House, Danny McCormick, has also been known to advocate shooting protestors, and as owner of the M & M Oil Company, is opposed to incentives for wind and solar projects. Apparently, violence to the earth with fossil fuel profits is OK.

That’s another problem I have with those who would make abortion illegal. Kill protestors or criminals, and always support the fossil fuel industry as it rapes the earth; and for God’s sake, we need nuclear weapons! The advocates for fertilized eggs are so often missing when there’s the violence of poverty and racism and guns and war; but let the sperm filled egg alone.

And what about the case of rape and incest? Doesn’t it make a difference if a child is conceived in love or violence? Incest and rape are the most under-reported crimes in this country, with 1 in 4 girls sexually abused before the age of 18, and 1 out of 7 boys. If a fetus is aborted, will a rapist who delivered the semen have to serve a longer prison sentence? (It’s unlikely the rapist will be convicted in the first place. Just six per cent of reported rapes result in jail time.) And how often are incest cases reported? How many abortions are sought because an estimated 10 per cent of American families host incest?

What if we went after the reasons a woman seeks an abortion? We could start in the home. We could make it clear as a society we don’t tolerate sexual abuse in the family, of any kind, just as we are making it clear in religious communities. Exposure does wonders for changing behavior.

And what if we taught our boys right behavior with girls. What if we taught them the difference between “yes” and “no.” What if we curbed widespread pornography? What if we made males as responsible for their actions as girls are forced to be, as the carriers of male pleasure.

Men sitting on our highest court who have been implicated and escaped charges of sexual abuse should recuse themselves on this case. If not, I agree with the person who proposed that, “all women who care about their right to choose go on a sex strike, married or not. For the men who support them, call your representatives and express your unhappiness.”


In the end, those who read Scripture should know that God breathes the breath of life into the newborn. Before that, their mother breathes for them.

 Carl Kline

Friday, May 20, 2022

"The Pause That Refreshes..."


There are two somewhat renowned intersections on the island.  One  is the notorious “5 Corners” and the other is the intersection of the Edgartown Road and State Road. There are no traffic  control lights.  If entrenched island custom holds, there never will be.  Drivers, especially during the height of the summer season, approach each intersection with cautious trepidation. Islanders’ conversation about summer traffic often leads to the revelation of driving strategies like taking the long way around in order to avoid making left turns across traffic.  Traffic jams are a given.

The arrival of a ferry, full of cars with drivers anxious to reach their destination after a long trip followed by a 45 minute crossing from the mainland, increases the challenge of moving through 5 Corners.  Drivers push their way through the intersection, often ignoring stop signs and creating a dangerous snarling gridlock.  Islanders know to schedule their trips into town to avoid the arrival of a boat.

But something else happens at these overloaded intersections that seems instructive for life.  With traffic backed up in several directions, a driver will simply pause and permit cars to make a turn in front to her - - perhaps allow several cars to get through the intersection before continuing on her way - - and the traffic begins to flow smoothly again. Just a brief stop to allow a few cars to make their turns and move into the flow of traffic and the potential traffic jams and delays are diffused. At the Edgartown Road and State Road intersection this often results in a kind of choreographed ballet as other drivers get the idea.   A spirit of creative cooperation prevails.

Pedestrians frequently play an unwitting role in the flow of traffic, especially at 5 Corners.   Cars have to stop to permit them to cross the busy intersections safely.  When this happens, vehicles in other lanes have a chance to make their turn into the flow of traffic and things keep moving, albeit at a snail’s pace, especially during the summer months.  The minute pauses make a difference.

Across the busy summer months, there are so any opportunities for either chaos or cooperation as   
supermarkets and restaurants and beaches fill to bursting with human energy, both positive and negative.  Every resource is taxed almost beyond its limits.  When Labor Day arrives and the crowds begin to return home, it is as though the island exhales.  The off-season “pause that refreshes” begins.  The beaches are liberated from millions of foot prints and gulls prevail once again.  Business owners challenged by too many demands and too few workers begin to breathe a little more easily. With the change of seasons and the return of a relative peace and calmness, the island heads into the winter months of rest and restoration.

Our Torah reading group focused on the portion called Behar (Leviticus 25) last evening.  It is one of the shorter portions, a mere 55 verses or so, but its emphasis on restorative balance is critical for our time.  The principle of sabbath is reiterated over and over again.  The Divine Imperative brings order and balance to the land and to people through the command to allow rest to happen.  For the health of the land and for the health of the humans who inhabit it,  a regular pause in all activity is crucial.  A sabbatical rest allows the land to recover.  There is a good reason for a sabbatical from various forms of employment so workers can rest and rejuvenate.   A sabbath rest restores a certain fundamental liberty from the pressures on the land, from the pressures of constant labor.

It may be a huge leap from a momentary pause on the part of a thoughtful driver to the notion of a generous sabbath pause for a land and for its people but there is a relationship between how we attend to the smaller details of life and how we treat one another and the planet.  

The sacred texts do not invite us to pause - - they command it.   The wisdom behind the texts is in the service of all humankind.  It is in our own best interest to slow down, to pause, to feel ourselves as part of a larger flow of life - to take time to rest and restore ourselves - and even more importantly to find ways to allow the environment around us to be left alone to rest and replenish itself as well.   

It is Friday.  At sundown Shabbat begins.  25 hours in which a great and graceful permission is given to rest.    Would that humankind could do and hear the command to pause and allow the flow of human life and the life of the planet a time of restoration.

Vicky Hanjian

Friday, May 13, 2022

"What has been lost?"


We returned on Saturday, about a week ago, from a lovely road trip with dear friends through parts of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Virginia. In a succession of 75 degree days, the redbud was in bloom everywhere and spring was much more “there” than it was "here" when we returned to the island.

Our travel day at the end of the trip was long.  An hour long drive to the Philly airport; 5 1/2 hours on the train to Boston South Station; a 1 1/2 hour wait for the bus to Woods Hole followed by  1 1/2 hours on the bus and then the final 45 minute leg of the journey on the SS Martha’s Vineyard.  A wintry and foggy wind blew me up hill all the way to where we had parked our car for the week.   When we awoke on Sunday morning, it was clear the week of travel had caught up with us as we crawled toward breakfast in a state of weariness bordering on exhaustion.   We opted for ZOOM for morning worship and then set about unpacking and tending to the accumulated laundry.

Word of advice  - -  in a state of sleep deprivation do not attempt to do any task that requires thoughtful sorting of laundry!!   As I pulled the wet clothing out of the washer, I noticed a strange dark lump in the load.  It turned out to be my husband’s “little black book,”  the most recent iteration of the pocket calendar he has carried in his pocket for more than 60 years.  The significance of this loss will be most real to United Methodist ministers of a certain age who, in another time, before the advent of smart phones, could not live without that small pocket calendar on their person at all times.

45 minutes later, I pulled the laundry from the dryer - and discovered another strange lump,  this time in the pocket of my husband’s jeans.  His wallet was also victim to my sleep-deprived
inattention to detail.  I have joined the ranks of the money launderers!  Also the launderers of drivers’ licenses and family photos and credit cards, all of which we were able to successfully dry out.  

Not so the pocket calendar.  It sits on the kitchen counter, slowly drying, pages stuck together - accusing me every time I look at it.  

Those little pocket calendars, accumulated over 60 years, carry the skeletal bones of our lives.  Meetings, medical appointments, birthdays, deaths, family celebrations, holidays, vacations - a life history of a marriage in “shorthand.”  The loss of even one creates a hole in a store of memories that cannot be refilled, especially as we age.

My thoughts roam to the multitudes of Ukrainian families displaced by war, homes bombed and burned, making rapid departures bringing only what they could carry.  I mourn the loss of one “little black book” - which can probably be reconstructed.  I can’t begin to imagine the grief that colors all of life with the loss of precious family mementos, heirlooms from the past, beloved books, precious toys and security blankets, the sense of place and belonging that come with a stable home in a familiar community.   Even with the aspirational thoughts of making the aggressor pay reparations, there is no way to recover the irreplaceable minutiae that make up the “face” of a community’s or a family’s life.  The losses set in motion a grief that will live far into the future - - into the coming generations who will not be able to leaf through an old family album or enjoy some curious bit of memorabilia passed down through several generations.   The war is stealing the memories of families and communities, the many bits and pieces of their lives, if not their lives themselves, replacing them with trauma.

Last night over dinner our Torah study group discussed “Emor,” the prescribed reading for this week.  It occurs near the end of the Book of Leviticus.  It is full of difficult teachings that are troubling in our day - but something emerged from our discussion.  Albeit, taken out of the context of the prior verses, verses 31-33 of Chapter 22 seemed to leap off the page: I am the Lord.  And you shall keep my commands and do them. I am the Lord. And you shall not profane My holy name, and I shall be hallowed in the midst of you.  I am the Lord Who hallows you, bringing you out of the land of Egypt to be God for you.  I am the Lord.

 As I keep turning these phrases over and over in my mind, I wander back to the early chapters of Genesis where the text affirms that humankind is created in the image of God - b’tzelim elohim.
After much rumbling around, the connections are made. When we “profane” another human being, or another human community, we “profane”the image of God - - our guiding metaphor for holiness. Our own holiness as beings created in a divine image is transgressed - and that transgression tramples on Divine Holiness.

War, in all its forms, profanes the image of God as it destroys human life and the quality of human life.  It tramples Holiness in the dust.   It is unholy.

In a day or two, thanks to Amazon, another “little black book” will arrive in the mail.  It will be tedious, but we will be able to re-construct our immediate history of the last 6 months.  I wonder “What will it take to restore the memories of so many lives when the war has run its devastating course?”  “What will it require of the larger human family to serve so many families who have lost so much?”  “What kinds of memories will replace all that has been lost?”

Vicky Hanjian

Friday, May 6, 2022

Happy 80th!

 I received a “Happy Birthday” email from the High School Reunion Committee for the Class of 1960 this week.  It is the first one I have ever received.  I wondered “why now?” and then realized that this is the year when almost all of us who graduated from high school in ’60 will turn 80!  The big 8-0!

How can this be?!?  I just turned 70 yesterday!  But a quick look back reminds me that this is REAL.   My classmates and I have lived through the end of World War 2, the Cold War, the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, the AIDS epidemic, the Women’s Liberation movement, the Gay Rights movement, the assassination of a president, his younger brother, and a modern day prophet.  We lived through the “duck and cover” years, sheltering under school desks. We have lived through Watergate, through Bill and Monica, the Bush years, twice, and the election of a Black president.  We have watched in disbelief as the base of democracy has been gradually whittled away by what seem to be unstoppable obstructionists at every level of government.

On the threshold of our 9th decade of life, we now witness Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter and wonder what this means for the further degradation of our social discourse.  We witness the exercise of lethal power against innocent human beings in Ukraine.  We witness the narrow margin of victory over the far right in the French election.

No wonder I sometimes feel tired!  “World weary”  might be an apt description for many of us who turn 80 this year.

And yet…I also have witnessed our high school kids put on a stellar performance of “Les Mis” -kids committing to weeks and weeks of rehearsals to produce a very difficult musical.  I’ve witnessed a young generation of farmers working small farms with a goal of sustainability.  I’ve seen our local church grapple with racism, institutional and personal.  I’ve rejoiced at the marriage of young gay friends and watched young trans people finding their way in a community that offers them and their families support through their difficult transitioning.

I’ve witnessed my own grandchildren grow into responsible, socially conscious adults who will pick up the banner of justice and environmental concern as they pursue their chosen paths.

As I look at what I have written, I see a little more clearly that I live in  “macro” world where things seem to spin far out of control as wars are waged and election battles are fought and billionaires exert influence in frightening ways.  But I also live in a “micro” world where people care about what happens to each other; a “micro” world where volunteers glean in local farm fields in order to rescue vegetables that can be turned into  meals for people who are food insecure; a “micro” world where the church smells like baked ham on Sunday morning as food is prepared for community meals later in the week.  This “micro” world is filled with people who work hard for not enough money, who struggle to find affordable housing, who have trouble paying for medical care - - but who give generously of themselves when a neighbor’s home burns or there is a sudden and tragic death in the community.

So - when I am feeling  all of my world weary 80 years, I shift my focus to the “micro world” for a bit.  It restores my hope and faith in humankind and I feel myself humming with Louis Amstrong: “It’s a wonderful world.”

Vicky Hanjian